Economics, trade, politics and infrastructure of Myanmar

This section provides you with recent information on Myanmar’s economic performance, economic prospects, trade and investments, politics and international relations and infrastructure.

Economic performance

The economic history of Myanmar is distinguished by high degrees of fluctuation and instability, mainly due to political turmoil and financial mismanagement. In 1948, the country was the world’s biggest rice exporter and enjoyed high living standards and abundant natural resources to capitalize on (CEIP, 2015). Nonetheless, the Burmese experiments towards a socialist path of development in addition to constant direct involvement of the army in all aspects of Myanmar’s socio-economic life produced an economy gravitating between central planning and necessary market economy reforms. Since the gradual establishment of civilian governments after 2010, a series of liberal economic reforms, international debt cancellations and the opening of the economy to global market have been transforming the country. Myanmar is considered a lower-middle income economy possessing key assets such as its abundant natural resources, a strategic location bordering China and India, a young population, and a sizable market with wide-ranging investment opportunities.  Services contribute almost 40% of the country’s GDP, followed by industry with 35.4%, while the share of the agricultural remains significant at around 24.8% (CIA Factbook, 2018). Economic growth has been above 5% the last 5 year period, reaching almost 7% in 2017 and making Myanmar one the fastest growing countries in the world. Exports have increased in 2017 up to 15% driven by increasing rice shipments and global demand for garments, whilst imports also rose 12% and thus widening the trade deficit at 5% of GDP, due to the accelerating domestic consumption and demand for capital goods for the ongoing infrastructure projects of the country (ADO, 2018).

Economic Outlook

In a context characterized by a turbulent domestic political environment and with a global recession unfolding, growth rates of Myanmar slowed down, but the liberal economic policies followed after 2011 offer the foundations to a more sustainable path to growth. In regard to Myanmar’s future prospects, the EUI is forecasting an average real GDP growth of 7.2% for the period 2018-22, pinpointing that the recent changes in the leadership of the Ministry of Planning and Finance will most probably stimulate government efforts in economic reform, but vested interests and the role of the armed forces might pose a threat. The Asian Development Bank identifies the attraction of the FDI’s as the biggest policy challenge for both the government, but also for the country as a whole (ADO, 2018). More specifically, as the recent trend of increasing trade deficits becomes more and more persistent, the need for capital to cover account deficits grows. Due to the underdevelopment, of the financial sector in Myanmar, FDI’s are the only viable solution for capital inflows, but so far the restrictive regulations, along with an unfavorable business environment, impedes investment efforts in the country. To the contrary, the enactment of a new business law, since December 2017, which offers to foreign investors a friendlier regulatory framework, along with the drafting of the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan, are believed to offer a favorable working field for international investors (ADO, 2018).

Key indicators
Population

53, 582 million (2017)

Capital

Nay Pyi Daw (since 2006)

Currency

Burmese Kyat

Time zone

UTC +6:30

GDP at market prices

$72.368 billion (2018)

Real GDP growth rate

7% (2018

GDP per capita

$1,374 (2018)

Doing business In Index*

171 out of 190 (2017)

Corruption Index**

130 out of 180 (2018)

Source: WorldBank (2018)
* doingbusiness.org
** transparency.org

Trade and investments

Myanmar is a lower-middle income economy that capitalizing on its relatively young labor force, its abundance of natural resources and its recent achievements in the liberalization of its economy, has steadily attracted the interest of investors and traders. FDI’s are gradually increasing during the last 7 years, but Myanmar is still behind in comparison to other regional economies, such as Singapore, Thailand or Malaysia (UNCTAD, 2018). According to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration of Myanmar (DICA), most FDI inflows originate from Singapore, China and the Netherlands. More specifically, FDI’s are concentrated mainly in the oil, gas, power, and telecom sectors and to a lesser degree to the manufacture sector, such as the textile and garment industry (World Bank, 2017). Regardless of favorable global conditions, the country runs a trade deficit, which is expected to continue for the short term future, increased inflation pressures, but low levels of public debt (CIA Factbook, 2018). Myanmar’s product market does not share the sophistication of other neighboring countries but it rapidly moves to economic diversification and industrialization (ICT Trademap, 2018). Petroleum exports remain the biggest export of the country in terms of export value, covering 24% of exports. The growing textile and garment industry also produces a large percentage of exported value. Hence, apparel and clothing accessories, either knitted or not, represent almost 26% of total export value, followed by the export of tin ore and other commodities. Agricultural exports amount to more than 14% of total export value, of which more than one fifth comes from fisheries and aquaculture products, such as frozen shrimps, fish and other. Nonetheless, the export of leguminous vegetables such as beans and peas is the main agricultural product, comprising about 36.4% of the agricultural exported value. Other significant agricultural exports are cereals, sesame seeds and other nuts, sugarcane, livestock and fruits. Between 2013 and 2016 exports to China grew rapidly, being more than tripled in terms of value. Therefore, today China is by far the biggest market for Myanmar’s products, absorbing more than 40% of total export value. On the other hand, export value towards India dropped more than half in the same period, representing in 2016 only about 9% of export value. Other important export markets are Thailand with around 19% of total value, Singapore with 7.6% and Japan with almost 5.7%. Exports to EU markets represent around 5% of exporting value. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2018, Myanmar ranks in the 171 place among the 190 countries that were surveyed, lagging far behind from the other South East Asian economies. Nevertheless, the strong regional trend towards the acceleration and implementation of business friendly policies and regulations along with country’s efforts in this field is likely to improve its overall position.

Politics and international relations

Myanmar is a parliamentary democracy, where the President is both the Head of the State and the Head of the Government. The successful national elections in November 2015 represent an important milestone in Myanmar’s transition. The results express an absolute majority for the reform-minded National League of Democracy (NLD) in both legislative chambers of the national parliament. In both houses 25% of the seats are reserved for the army, while the rest is directly elected. The strong military influence will slow down progress on e.g. governance reform and peace with ethnic armed groups (EIU). Myanmar’s first civilian president, President Htin Kyaw, in more than five decades (since the military coup in 1962) was elected in March 2016. Aung San Suu Kyi holds the position of State Counsellor, a role similar to a Prima Minister and is Myanmar’s first female foreign minister. Following the resignation of Htin Kyaw in March 2018, Win Myint was elected as the 10th President of Myanmar. The legal system of Myanmar is a combination of customary law of the family, codified English common law and recent Myanmar legislation. The Supreme Court of the Union is the highest judicial authority in Myanmar. Corruption is a pervasive phenomenon in Myanmar rooted in the peculiarities of the country’s political history. In 2017, the country ranked in the 130th place among 180 nations in the Corruption Perceptions Index, which is an improvement from earlier rankings. Yet the still strong influence of the Army, the absence of adequate institutional checks and balances and the links between the ruling elite and organized crime, impede progress in the country. Myanmar has been a WTO member since 1995 and joined the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2012. Moreover, the country is a member of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) since 1997. Myanmar has expressed interest in upgrading its status from an observer to a full member of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Infrastructure

The coastline of Myanmar is spanning over 1,906 km stretching from the mouth of Raf River in  the Bengal Bay, which comprises the borderline with Bangladesh, to Kra Buri River and the Andaman Sea in the borders with Thailand, providing the country with a great geopolitical potential in participating in the important trade routes in South East Asia and the Pacific. Apart from that, the country has  Myanmar has around 5,000 km of navigable waterways, of which 2,400 km constituting the primary inland waterway network, where  the main provider of both passenger and freight services is the state owned Myanmar Inland Water Transport (ADB, 2012). Myanmar currently has 9 international ports along the western and southeastern coast of the country, namely, Yangon, Sittwe, Kyaukphyu, Thandwe, Pathein, Mawlamyine, Dawei, Myeik, and Kawthaung. The biggest port of the country is Yangon, in the Yangon River, which handles 85% to 95% of Myanmar’s maritime trade, but capacity is restricted due to the inability of the port to accommodate large size vessels (Oxford Business Group, 2018). Two large deep sea port projects, in Dawei and Kyaukphyu, are under way. The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report ranked Myanmar 134 out of 144 in 2016, well below India (71st) and Bangladesh (109th). Technical readiness and business sophistication are the main reasons for the low score. Myanmar scored relatively high on market size (70th out of 144) and labour market efficiency (72th). The underdevelopment of infrastructure along with the fact that Myanmar is one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries put significant barriers in the development of the country (World Bank, 2018).  

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